Minn. lawmakers push bonuses, loan relief to recruit cops

Republican senators announce plans to recruit police officers
Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, and other Republicans announced plans to create grants to recruit more people to become police officers in Minnesota.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Sign-on bonuses of $10,000, scholarships and special financial aid are a few of the law enforcement recruitment proposals in play at the state Capitol.

Minnesota Senate Republicans outlined a $65 million recruitment plan Thursday, which they said was just a slice of a public safety package the Senate’s majority will push this year. DFLers who control the House say they’ll also put forward a police staffing proposal.

If the plans line up, it could present an area of consensus, and it will mark a notable shift in the debate that has been more about police accountability in recent years.

Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said a general labor shortage combined with a demoralized law enforcement profession are making recruitment difficult.

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“We are facing a crisis in the number of licensed officers available in Minnesota to even apply for the job openings we have,” he said at a news conference. “This might be most pronounced in the metro, but in many rural communities like mine we have struggled to recruit new officers to live and work in their communities.”

The GOP plan includes multiple pots of financial assistance for students who pursue law enforcement degrees, bonuses for new hires and money toward a public awareness campaign about the importance of policing.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, an East Gull Lake Republican who is running for governor, said his bonus plan could help attract up to 2,000 new officers.

“If you sign up to be a new police officer — a brand-new police officer — $10,000. You have to serve one year before you get it. It goes to the agency that appointed that person,” Gazelka said. “You can’t game the system. In other words, you can’t be moving from one police force to another.”

Gazelka said the drive to attract new officers won’t pull back on current qualifications for licensure.

“We don’t intend to lower the standards. We want the best people to be police officers,” he said. “So if we are not going to lower the standards, I don’t see any way around not having to pay more because the risk is so high.”

Republicans said they would present other bills soon that are focused on keeping current officers from leaving their jobs, perhaps through pension sweeteners or other methods. Leaders said they would fast-track the bills so they can get put into action soon.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said his caucus will release its own police recruitment and retention plan. 

“We welcome collaboration with Senate Republicans to find areas of agreement,” Winkler said in a written statement. “In our engagement with police chiefs, sheriffs and local officials, Democrats are hearing that police departments want to diversify their workforce and ensure officers are committed to service in their communities.”

Budget recommendations from DFL Gov. Tim Walz include student loan relief of up to $5,000 for newly hired police officers and a recruitment advertisement campaign.

Law enforcement isn’t the only profession getting attention from lawmakers on the labor front. Bills around recruiting more nurses, child care providers and meat processors are under consideration. The plans would be paid for out of a record $7.7 billion projected budget surplus.